Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Carrie’ a self-aware horror that stands on its own

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

An outsider. With a despondent musical cue and an ethereal rush of sound, this role is assigned to a young girl as soon as she is introduced in the film. This is Carrie, hauntingly played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Director Kimberly Peirce uses the young actress’ natural magnetism to evoke the audience’s sympathy for the character, and builds a tension between extremes that keeps the action charging along. Though it is a remake of Brian De Palma’s original adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel, this “Carrie” is both fresh and frightening in its own right.

Early scenes reveal the world as seen through Carrie’s eyes, and her suffering is pointedly juxtaposed with the apathetic and almost savagely selfish nature of her tormentors. Peirce quickly introduces Carrie’s chief antagonist, Chris (Portia Doubleday) and her nicer right-hand crony, Sue (Gabriella Wilde). While these and other supporting characters don’t stray far from their respective archetypes, it becomes clear that the director is pulling purposefully from a stock of tropes to build a very specific world and worldview. In this way, Peirce completely isolates Carrie from the rest of the student body and the community.

Moretz deserves credit for her convincing portrayal of the complicated, tortured Carrie. She balances a burgeoning defiance of her mother with an utter vulnerability to the high school bullies, and conveys the yearning for the normalcy of a lonely, intensely sheltered girl. Doubleday is also great as the very evil Chris, but it’s Julianne Moore who excels as Carrie’s mother, Margaret.

Moore shows complete commitment in the role. Margaret is an oppressive extremist, condemning everything overtly sexual or feminine as sin. She’s twistedly religious to the point of undeniable insanity, and scenes between her and Carrie become gloriously unhinged. Early sequences without Carrie gain deeper context as their relationship is explored. Peirce uses Margaret’s influence on Carrie’s perspective to initially portray sexuality as impure, and this makes their skewed mother-daughter dynamic even more compelling.

I have neither seen De Palma’s film nor read King’s novel, but nevertheless found this retelling perfectly satisfying. Updating Carrie’s story to the present day makes it accessible, and no part of the tale feels forced. Peirce subtly blends tragic and satirical elements, exploring darkness, loneliness and the consequences of cruelty and kindness. Even when the characters seem exaggerated, or when specific events appear less than believable, the storyline doesn’t feel contrived. Importantly, Peirce never weighs the film down by trying to hide the direction she is moving in.

“Carrie” is not a jump-out-of-your-seat horror film. Instead, it consistently elicits an unsettled feeling from the audience. Shadows sometimes linger on the fringes of the frame, a visual reminder of psychological and social discord within and around the characters. At one point Peirce mostly washes out a close-up of Carrie’s face, bathing her in light so that she looks almost angelic. It’s an arresting image, and showcases how deftly the director can suddenly shift the visual tone from hopeful to foreboding. Certain camera angles work hard to evoke the creepy, uneasy feeling that has become a hallmark of the horror genre, but the technical choices do not otherwise draw negative attention to themselves.

Sound is used to augment essential moments throughout Peirce’s remake. The indie rock-heavy soundtrack often sets a particular mood, or acts as cleverly nuanced foreshadowing. What works incredibly well are the moments of near silence. Music drops out at critical points, leaving only the dialog to fill the sonic void. This drives tension up tremendously.

Cues from Marco Beltrami’s score are also put to great use. The standout example happens during a slight pause in the film’s gripping finale, when a distorted electric guitar motif is played just loud enough to be heard. The effect is absolutely terrifying.

“Carrie” isn’t perfect, but it is well-crafted, particularly with regard to smaller details. Kimberly Peirce utilizes a variety of storytelling methods, and it’s by blending those modes so adeptly that the film really succeeds.

The movie is dark, affecting and definitely scary. It is a film that knows its bounds but doesn’t feel canned. It is horror made with heart. And although it may be a remake, “Carrie” delivers on its own terms.

Nathan Frontiero can be reached at [email protected].

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    Hemang KaulOct 31, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    A great article. Sums up my feelings more than adequately.